BIDDEFORD — Opponents of the two Maine gambling initiatives on November's ballot might not agree about much else, they said Thursday.
"I've been asked three times in the last week, when are you guys gonna show up. Where's the anti-casino movement?" said Chris O'Neil of Mainer's Against a Rotten Deal. "We're here to show you, we're here our sleeves are rolled up and we're going to fight question 2 and question 3. And we're going to win."
O'Neil introduced a coalition made up of his group, Casinos NO!, the Christian Civic League of Maine, Friends of Animals and others — all foes of expanding Maine's gambling.
It also included Mark Ferguson, representing the Friends of the Oxford County Casino. While the others argued that gambling was wrong for Maine, Ferguson — who manages the Village Kitchen in Poland — argued that it was just these projects, proposed for Biddeford, Washington County and Lewiston, that are all wrong.
"We all share the same message, let's slow things down and take a closer look at what we're doing," Ferguson said. "What you have going on with 2 and 3 are just more of the same. They are the same as casinos in Bangor and Massachusetts. Oxford is not a casino. It's a resort and that's a big difference."
Voters statewide will go to the polls on Nov. 8 to consider two different casino plans. Question 2 would allow two racinos — combining harness horse racing and indoor gaming. One would be in Biddeford, the second north in Washington County.
Question 3 would legalize a casino in downtown Lewiston, in the old Bates Mill Building No. 5.
Thursday's news conference was located in one of the Biddeford's redeveloped mill buildings, Old Dam Mill No. 2. Biddeford's proposal calls for a harness-racing casino there. Supporters say it would create hundreds of permanent jobs and more temporary construction jobs.
Thursday, their foes say they're not convinced.
"People are very concerned and dubious about the economic benefits of the casino, and you can see that in their advertisements," said Dennis Bailey of CasinosNO!. "They're trying to downplay casino aspect. Casinos become racinos and gambling becomes gaming, like it's 'Pac Man' or something. And we all know that it's only a game if you own the casino."
Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League, said expanding gambling is simply wrong. Casinos take money from gambling addicts, providing tax revenue to cities and profits to owners. They just create more addicts and force more families into financial difficulties.
"If this passes, there will be casualties," Conley said. "There's a debate about the numbers of those casualties. But there's no debate about whether there will be casualties."
Robert Fisk, of Maine Friends of Animals, said his group objected to harness racing and the treatment of the animals. In the sport, horses are maltreated, drugged, whipped and eventually sold for slaughter.
"It's all about the money, and the horse is just another disposable commodity," Fisk said.